Vladimir's mother, Nubia, was the first member of his immediate family to be baptized into the Mormon church in Columbia, South America. Vladimir was the second, but before he could be baptized into the LDS Church, his grandfather, along with all the family members on his father's side, swept into the home and escorted him to the Catholic Church to be baptized there. He was 8 or 9 years old at the time and today is a university student in Utah. The memory of that event is as fresh in his mind today as it was then. His journey since and his testimony have followed a long and winding path.
One of his most distinct memories as a child was the tenderness with which his mother embraced and kissed him each day as he left for school. He realizes now that what many see as a simple act — leaving the house and riding the bus to school — was a high-risk venture in Columbia during his youth when drug cartels were powerful and street violence was more the rule than the exception. His mother never knew for certain if she would see her children again.
It was for this reason and because there were no jobs to be had in Columbia that, when offered the chance to come to the United States on a work visa, she left her children with their grandmother and, knowing little English, took a job in New Jersey. The challenges she faced were enormous but eventually, when Vladimir was 11, she was able to secure a visa for him, and he too came stateside. He explained that "coming to the United States was like coming to heaven — no car bombs, no bike bombs," no fear of a corrupt justice system that did not extend justice.
By the time he arrived in the United States his mother was working as a nanny in New Jersey. She had lost contact with the LDS Church, but she wanted Vladimir to go to church, and "we started attending." Vladimir explained, "She saw the good it does you and observed the missionaries (in Columbia). 'I wanted my son to be like that.'" Shortly thereafter she received a blessing and described the "warmth" she felt — for the first time she felt the Holy Ghost.
When Vladimir was in sixth grade there was little money, and they were forced into a small, dreary apartment in a "bad neighborhood in New York." Vladimir was unaccepted and angry, but a male teacher from Senegal, Africa, took him under his wing. He understood and for six months relentlessly challenged Vladimir until he learned English.
It was about this time that the missionary that baptized his mother felt impelled to cross the country to visit them. He took Nubia and Vladimir around New York. Vladimir paid his first visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As his visit to New York drew to a close, knowing their circumstances, he invited, "Why don't you come to Utah?" The decision to move had to be a scary one, but Nubia wanted her son "out of that bad place." Their dear missionary, who had kept in touch with them over the years, paid their train fares. As Vladimir explained these events, "It was God, it had to be. Many years earlier, getting me a visa, getting one for my mom, we were middle poor, and getting visas was a miracle. It was God."
In Utah, they settled into the basement of their missionary's home and were there for three months until they were "on their feet." Their elder finished school, graduated and moved with his wife and baby son. By then Nubia had found work, and Vladimir, at age 12, learned to ride a bike. He never had one before.
Nubia and Vladimir eventually found a place with a family by the Provo Temple and settled into a ward where his "real conversion took place." Ward members and the young men reached out to him and fellowshipped him. He made friends, participated in athletics, started doing well in school and graduated with honors. Although finances were, and continue to be, tight, and it was often tough and discouraging for Vladimir to see some students who never appreciated what they had, he learned some powerful lessons.
"At age 15 or 16, I came to consciousness that I could trust God and that he was watching out for us. I can tell you that is true." Vladimir described, "seeing, feeling, experiencing, realizing" that the difficult things that have happened in his life have "served a purpose."
"Your testimony is either growing or sinking," he shared. Although there are real challenges that lie before him, "I have a commitment to go on a mission, not because of others, but because of me. ... We have to open our hearts, experience 'a mighty change of heart' and let the Lord in."
Vladimir's journey has taken him to many places. It is really, however, only beginning. In his few short years he has faced many challenges. He has also learned powerful, wonderful lessons that have matured him, motivated him and made him party to miracles. They will continue to serve him well throughout his life.